Australian government reject gay judge’s pension plan

The Attorney General of Australia has said he will not change the pension arrangements of judges so that same-sex partners are given the same provision as spouses.

The country’s Parliament is considering changes to judge’s pension, and opposition politicians have pointed out that this would be a good opportunity to change the law in favour of equality.

One of Australia’s most respected judges, Michael Kirby, is openly gay.

It is understood that he wrote to Attorney General Philip Ruddock requesting that the law be changed so that his partner of nearly 40 years, Johan von Vloten, would receive a spouse pension of $140,000 (£59,480) if he outlived him.

Justice Kirby is due to retire in 2009 at the age of 70.

Mr Ruddock’s rejection of calls for equality are in keeping with the overall attitude of the federal Australian government towards gay and lesbian citizens.

They passed a Marriage Act in 2004, to reiterate their view that marriage is “the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

However, all Australian states and territories grant some rights to same-sex partners.

2007 is an election year in Australia, and the Liberal government of John Howard want to win a fifth term in office.

They have effectively used gay rights as a wedge issue in previous elections, using it to energise the votes of conservative and Christian Australians.

In April Mr Howard said HIV+ people who came to Australia either as migrants or refugees, should not be allowed in.

By contrast, Justice Kirby has been a dignified and respected voice for human rights.

He has always been forthright about his own sexuality, even mentioning his partner in Who’s Who.

He faced criticism for admitting to a relationship with a man before 1984, when New South Wales decriminalised homosexuality.

However, as most people now view that law as unjust, there have been no formal moves to challenge his status as one of Australia’s top jurists.

In 2002, homophobic senator Bill Heffernan used parliamentary privilege to accuse Kirby of ‘trawling for rent boys.’

When the senator’s evidence was shown to be false, Justice Kirby responded:

“I accept Senator Heffernan’s apology and reach out my hand in a spirit of reconciliation. I hope my ordeal will show the wrongs that hate of homosexuals can lead to.”